Can you believe it? Two chapters in one week? Once the writer’ block broke I couldn’t write fast enough. Chapter Thirteen is already under way. Enjoy! xxoo, Barb
Need to Catch Up????
Kate’s mind swirled in turmoil for at least two hours following her attempted phone call to Mark in Paris. She wasn’t angry per se, although she felt somewhat responsible for this predicament in which they currently found themselves. That said, Kate hated to see a man whom she cared for very much become involved with someone like Honey Sugarbaker. Worse, she couldn’t help but question his integrity and wonder how he could allow himself to become romantically embroiled with someone of such questionable character. Especially when everyone back home assumed they were still a couple. Even Mark’s own law firm surmised that Kate had accompanied Mark to Paris. It was evident that he had left under secrecy. Who could blame him considering his chosen paramour.
Bone-Jor. The woman had actually answered their room’s phone and in two syllables had made a complete mockery of the French language. It was pretty much what she had also done to the sanctity of marriage, Kate surmised snidely. Any relationship she may have had with Mark, for all intent purposes, was over. Whether it ended abruptly when Honey answered the phone in Paris or when Kate returned to South Carolina – it was a moot point. It was over in every way in her heart. She only hoped they could be cordial to each other for the sake of politeness and because they traveled in the same social circles in Charleston.
Kate downed the last few sips of her red wine, trying to decide if she needed another glass. Or perhaps two. Red wine had been her first line of defense after the disastrous call to Mark. Now, she found herself at a crossroads. She had a meeting in London which could set the course of her career and thus, the rest of her life. The real question remained – would she take the train to London Monday morning, or accompany Andrew on his business meeting as he had asked. Hell, decisions like that called for one thing. Another glass of wine. She emptied the remains of the bottle, making a mental note to pick up more at the market.
Kate carried the glass into her bedroom, placing it on her bedside table. It was too early to go to bed and sleep was the last thing on her mind. Writing her romance novel was also the last thing on her mind at the moment. There was nothing like being dumped for the town tramp to dispel any romantic theories one needed as inspiration for writing a love story. Kate laughed aloud. It wasn’t the first time she had been dumped. Tommy Downs had trampled on her tender, young heart in the fourth grade. He had been her first crush and she remembered running into the house in complete shambles after he confessed his ever-dying love for Ruthy Starnes. Then, there was Morton Hinesman in the seventh grade, the next love of her life.. They had been a couple for most of that year and even had a regular booth at the burger joint downtown Charleston where everyone hung out after school. The whole seventh-grade class thought she and Morton made the perfect couple, that is until Donna Baxter moved into town. Donna was far from a small-town girl with small-town ways. In quick time, she had zeroed in on Morton and before long, Kate was being dumped once again for another girl. This time one with large bosoms that had developed quite early. Those were all school girl crushes, though. She was a grown woman and was pretty sure she would not throw herself upon her bed and swear to the high heavens she would never love again. Kate smiled, calmer now. Either her emotions were starting to settle or the wine was kicking in. Either way, she found she wasn’t angry at Mark. In fact she was sad that their relationship had ended how it did. Kate slid her feet inside her loafers and decided to clear her head with a walk by the river. She had found that when her mind was unsettled, there was something about standing at the water’s edge that put everything back into perspective. She once asked Imogen if anyone had ever mentioned that the river had magical healing qualities. Of course it had been in jest but sometimes Kate did wonder. The shallow body of water which ran through the center of Bourton-on-the-Water may have been small, but it was mighty in it’s soothing and tranquilizing abilities.
The pub was alive with activity on Thursday night when Kate entered to have dinner with Imogen and Jasper, as she had promised. She waved at several of the locals that she had come to know and nodded her head in greeting at others whom she assumed were tourists. The good part about the tourism business was the added influx of income to a usually sleepy village. The tourism dollars kept a lot of the small businesses going and allowed them to make it through the slow Winter months when they had only the locals to keep them going. The flip side of the tourism industry was that the once sleepy town had awoken and was vigorous with action. Throngs of people passing through, excited to be visiting one of England’s most beautiful regions, filled the streets taking photographs and enjoying the sights. Afterwards they filled the pubs and restaurants sampling the local ales and faire.
Kate made her way through the crowd to find a small table in one of the side rooms. She had winked at Jasper as she entered and knew it would only be a matter of a few minutes before Imogen found her way over to her table. A young couple was seated next to her, and they could not keep their eyes off of each other, or their hands for that matter. Newlyweds, Kate guessed. Either that or they were having an affair, she inwardly giggled. Imogen was carrying a large tray filled with platters of food and Kate could not help but notice that she looked unusually tired and worn out. She watched her friend’s movements and the way she conversed with her patrons, and realized she lacked her usual convivial disposition. A few minutes later Imogen made her way over to where Kate sat.
“Imogen, are you ok? You look super tired tonight,” Kate asked anxiously.
“Oh, girl, I am about dead on me feet. Two of the serving girls called in sick tonight and we had a huge bus load of tourists passing through. I think they are all dining here tonight. Pray for me that I make it through this night without falling over on me blooming tush.”
“Oh, Imogen, what can I do? Can I help in any way?”
“Not unless you know how to take orders and carry food to tables,” she joked. “You sit right here and I will have Jasper send out your dinner. Hopefully at some point we can have that little talk. This ole’ gal will be needing some strong tea here soon.” Imogen wandered off in a hurry. The dinner hour was most definitely in full swing. Kate couldn’t just sit there and watch her friend work herself to the bone. She stood up and walked behind the bar carrying her purse. Jasper looked up from pouring several pints in surprise.
“Jasper, I am in need of two things. First, I need to store my purse somewhere safe behind this bar and second, I need an apron.”
“An apron? Why you be needing an apron to have dinner? My missus’ pie isn’t that messy I don’t suppose.”
“Because I am your newest server for tonight. You and Imogen need help and that’s what friends are for. Now, point me in the direction where these pints go.”
“Okay then, I’m not a man to argue. We need all the help we can get tonight. Over there at table six…um, the table by the door.”
“Okay, I am off. Look on the bright side Jasper, I can use this experience in my next romance book,” she winked. Kate grabbed two pints in each hand and made her way over to the table that Jasper had indicated. She took their orders and headed to the kitchen towards the back. It occurred to Kate she had never been back into the pub’s kitchen until this night. She met Imogen coming out carrying another large tray of food.
“Kate, where are you going and what are you wearing?”
Kate did a perfectly choreographed curtsy, and smiled huge. “Kate Parker at your service ma’am. Romance writer and pub server.”
“Oh, Kate, you can’t possibly. You’re my friend and you’re a customer. This isn’t right.”
“It is perfectly right and I won’t hear any more arguments. You need some help and the last time I looked out there, people were about to mutiny if they did not get served soon,” she jested. Imogen leaned over and kissed her soundly on the cheek. “I love ya’, dear girl. You’ll get no more arguments from me tonight. Hershall is our cook, just hand him your orders.”
The night seemed to pass quickly with both women working in unison. What Kate’s performance as a waitress lacked in skill, she made up for in personality. Everyone was highly surprised and amused when they discovered their server was American. An older woman from Kansas even told Kate she looked very familiar and wanted to know if she had a famous sister in the States. Kate replied that she was asked that question a lot and assured the woman that there was no famous sister. After several hectic hours there remained only a few diners remaining. Most everyone had either retired to their rooms upstairs or had boarded their tour bus to their final destination for the night. It was finally quiet enough that the overhead music could be heard once again over the previous throng of chattering voices. Kate and Imogen had just sat down at a small table to enjoy a cup of tea when Kate saw out of the corner of her eye one of the men who had been causing her to have some restless nights. Andrew saw Kate immediately and headed in her direction.
“Ladies, good evening. I happened upon old Felix heading home and he tells me The Pub and Crown has a new waitress. From his description, she is quite the looker, too. Might anyone know whom this woman is? I want to meet her in person and see if she wants a date,” he joked.
“Imogen, did you hire a new server tonight? I don’t recall seeing anyone fitting that description, do you?” she winked.
“Well no, but I myself am quite the looker so maybe ole’ Felix was referring to me. Don’t let my Jasper find out that Felix has a thing for me, though. Now you two enjoy some time together. I am going to take my tea and go check on Hershall to see if he has resigned as head cook tonight. That was quite the crowd.”
“Oh, Imogen, I did not mean to run you away,” Andrew started. “I can wait at the bar if I was interrupting you and Kate.”
“Psshaw. Don’t be silly. I do believe that you and this lady have some things to discuss tonight,” she winked. “Kate, get with me before you leave tonight, will you?”
“Sure, Imogen. Now go get off your feet for a few and rest. Promise me?” Imogen waived off Kate’s concern and dawdled back to the kitchen, a little perk back in her step. Kate worried that the fast pace of the busier seasons was getting too much for her friend.
“So, how have you been? I hope you got my message earlier that I would be here tonight. I called you on your phone and left you a voice mail.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, my phone is behind the bar in my purse. I hid it there while I -“
“While you played bar wench?” he grinned.
“Yes, while I played bar wench. Be careful or I’ll pour a pitcher of grog down ye’ ole’ pants. Imogen was short two servers tonight and she looked like she was going to drop in her shoes from exhaustion when I got here. We just sat down for some tea when you came in. I was going to call you tonight, Andrew. I know you asked me not to dally on my decision to go with you to London. Several things came up these past few days and kinda sent me into a tailspin.”
“Would you like to talk about it?”
“Well, I got a call from my editor in New York City, Harriet – and it seems my publisher has purchased another publishing house here in England. The head honcho wants to meet me. In London. On Monday.”
“Monday. In London? Kate that is wonderful. You can accompany me and we can stay another day or two, that is if you want to. I guess I am jumping the gun a bit, aren’t I – by assuming you want to go with me.”
“Andrew, I obviously have to make the trip to London for business too, so yes I will accompany you. But, you do not have to stay an extra day. I can take the train back after my meeting if you need to return sooner. There is one more thing I want to tell you, and I don’t want you to feel I have agreed to accompany you because this is some kind of rebound trip.”
“Rebound? Oh my, that only means one thing. Were you dumped?”
“I wouldn’t say dumped, per say. Well, yes, I guess you could say that. He doesn’t know that I know he dumped me.”
“Okay, I am so confused now. Should we find that sexy bar wench and see if she can explain this any better?”
Kate laughed. “You better watch yourself, ole’ Felix is gonna call you out for a duel if you go messing with his new wench. Okay, I’ll explain as best as I can. The first two words you need to know are Honey and Sugarbaker.”
“Honey and Sugarbaker?” he repeated. “As in the infamous husband stealer of Charleston fame -“
“…and collector, don’t forget that,” Kate interrupted,
“Yes, lest we forget her impressive resume credential, husband collector. But, I am just as confused now as when we started this conversation, Kate.”
“It all started out when I called Mark’s law office to talk to him. He wasn’t there. The strange thing is that everyone assumed he was with me.”
“With you? Well, that makes no sense, at least I don’t think it does,” he said looking around. “Is he here? In Bourton?”
“Nope. He’s in Paris as we speak.”
“I assume you mean Paris, France and not Paris, Texas?”
“Yep, ooh la la, croissants and all that jazz. Paris, France. But, obviously he isn’t there with me as he let his office believe.”
“Why would he want everyone to believe he was going to Paris with you? He was clearly aware he was telling everyone a lie. Unless he was covering his tracks and didn’t want anyone to know he was going with someone else?” About this time, Andrew’s face clearly exhibited complete understanding of the facts at hand – as he had finally put all of the pieces of this mysterious conversion together. He looked at Kate quite astonished. “Don’t tell me.”
“Honey Sugarbaker,” they both said in unison.
“I have got to see meet this Sugarbaker woman. She is a living, one person mini drama, isn’t she? Oh Kate, I’m so sorry. I don’t mean to make a joke of all of this. How are you feeling?”
“I’m fine, really I am. I should have been more upfront with him about my concerns to begin with so he didn’t feel he had to sneak off with another woman. I”ll talk to him when he gets back from Paris, but I don’t hold any ill will. Well, maybe just a bit that he dumped me for the likes of her,” she laughed. “He’s a good man, and I hate to see her get her ‘ravenous man-claws’ into him.”
“That’s a new term – ravenous man-claws.”
“Yea, Imogen taught me that one to describe someone we mutually know,” she smiled.
“I think I know who and let’s not name her.”
“Anyway – yes, Andrew. I would love to accompany you on your business trip. Like I said, you do not have to stay through Monday, though.”
“Don’t be silly. I would not dream of leaving you in London. So, shall I pick you up tomorrow afternoon, say about 1 o’clock? That way we can beat the rush hour traffic getting into London and make it in time for afternoon tea.”
“I’ll be ready. Thank you Andrew and I’m sorry I’ve left you waiting. I hope you understand I had some things to clear up first.”
Andrew reached across the table and squeezed Kate’s hand. “If we were not in this pub,” he looked back towards the bar, “and if there were not several pairs of curious eyes on us at this very moment, I would kiss you right now, Katherine Parker.”
“Let’s not give them any gossip for their fodder. I know Imogen would be extremely happy to see us walking down the aisle of the church tomorrow morning if she had her way, but let’s wait to see if we can at least make it through the British Museum together, shall we?”
“I agree. You never know, we may break up in the Egyptian Room before we even officially start dating. I have heard many couples break up over disagreements pertaining to marble statues.”
“You make me smile, Andrew Weston. A lot. And it feels good. Thank you.”
“I love to see you smile, Katherine. Your beautiful face takes on a whole new persona when your face lights up. If I am even a small part of that, then I’m a happy man.”
Imogen watched Kate and Andrew converse and interact with each other. She glanced over at her Jasper, the love of her life. Seeing Kate and Andrew together reminded her of their own relationship and marriage. There was no one who made Imogen as happy as the dear man who stood behind the bar, smiling back at her. The future was always unclear in many ways but one thing was for sure. Love could conquer about anything that came along, even the Carolines and Honey Sugarbakers of the world.
Katherine felt like a Queen, or at the very least a Princess, when they checked into The Savoy in London. She and David had traveled first class, but there was first class and then there was first class. Their two-room suite overlooked Big Ben, the London Eye and the Thames which was a spectacular view. The drive to London had been pleasant and time passed quickly as they each shared humorous stories about their childhoods. Upon checking in, Andrew excused himself to make some business calls and requested that Katherine meet him downstairs for tea at half past four. Kate quickly changed into an outfit more befitting High Tea at The Savoy. She had no idea what the dress attire should consist of exactly but she was pretty sure Calvin Klein jeans and Kate Spade flats were not appropriate. She slipped on a fitted black pencil skirt with a light blue matching sweater set. Kate debated about a set of pearls but felt that was perhaps a bit haughty. Then again, this was The Savoy. Instead she chose a small, pendant gold necklace with matching earrings. After pinning her hair into a neat French twist, she checked her makeup, added more lipstick and grabbed her clutch purse. This was not her first High Tea. She and David had enjoyed such events at both Harrod’s and Selfridges, but The Savoy was a class of it’s own. As she descended the staircase coming down from their second floor suite, she saw Andrew waiting for her. He had also changed into a sports coat and tie and looked every bit the dashing British gentleman.
“My dear, I am the luckiest man in all of England at this very moment,” he said, while extending his arm out to Kate.
“Well, I am sorry the bar wench turned you down the other night and you had to settle with me, but I assure you I can be pleasant company.”
The Tea Room was as beautiful as one would expect of a 5-Star Luxury Hotel in the middle of London. There was a multitude of customers already seated and the room smelled of fresh scones, petit fours and tarts interspersed with the sweet smell of fresh blossoms of every color.
A bucket of iced champagne greeted them at table side and as soon as they were seated an elegantly dressed waiter filled their glasses. Kate glanced around at the clientele partaking of this much revered and age-old British tradition. Impulsively she longed to take out her iPhone and snap a few pictures to remember the moment, but this wasn’t exactly the occasion nor would it have been proper by any means.
Andrew held up his glass to hers. “Here’s to a great weekend in London and also to your newest career endeavors.”
“Thank you, Andrew, and to your business ventures as well. Also, here’s hoping we don’t split up in the museum before our relationship even begins.”
“Do we have a relationship? I am not quite sure what to call it?”
“You’re a dear friend and I enjoy being with you. Like I said you make me smile more than any man has in a long time. I like you, Andrew Weston. A lot. For now, that’s all we need. Let’s see where that leads, shall we?”
“That, my dear, sounds like a sensible plan. Now can you hand me some of those salmon sandwiches I am famished.“
“Why, Lord Weston, is that you? Here in London?” came a pursed-lip greeting from behind Kate. They both looked up to see a stout older woman standing with a timerous and quiet young woman at her side. Andrew, being the perfect gentleman, rose to greet their unexpected visitor.
“Lady Goodall, how pleasant to see you again so soon after the garden party. And Lady Elsbeth, how are you?” he replied.
“Elsbeth where are you manners, dear?” The shy and mousy young woman dropped into an immediate curtsy and muttered an almost unintelligible “Lord Weston.” Followed by what sounded like an indistinct nervous giggle.
Kate sat back, observing quietly. Her eyes went from Andrew to the two ladies who stood by her chair. Neither woman had acknowledged Kate, not even to make eye contact with her. In some ways, she felt as if she had stepped onto the pages of Pride and Prejudice and was one of the penniless Bennet sisters.
“Lady Goodall, may I present to you my friend, Katherine Parker. Katherine Parker, The Lady Cordella Goodall and her daughter, The Lady Elsbeth Goodall.”
“Hello, it’s a pleasure to meet you both,” Kate responded.
“Hmmm.” That was about as far as the conversation progressed between the three ladies. A mere glance down at Katherine signified that she acknowledged her presence but that was all. Lady Goodall turned her attention back to Lord Weston. “How is Lady Caroline, Lord Weston? Is she not accompanying you on your trip here to London?” she asked.
“No Lady Goodall, Caroline is not here. Nor should she be that I am aware of.”
“Lord Weston, at the garden party I was under the impression that the two of you were etre’ fiance‘ as they say, soon to be engaged.”
“Engaged? Heavens, no. You must have misunderstood. Lady Caroline and I are nothing more than childhood friends.”
“I see. Well, in that case, my daughter Elsbeth and I would like to call on you Friday this coming week for tea. Is that suitable for you? Elsbeth can play several compositions of your choice on that beautiful grand piano in your front sitting room. You still have your mother’s pride and joy, do you not?”
Kate was growing more and more amused. She felt at any moment that gentlemen wearing top hats and women stifled by corsets would stroll by arm in arm.
“Lady Cordella, I am quite busy these days with my company. Perhaps another time -“
“Your wife has been gone for how long now, Lord Weston? I am sure your dear mother would want her son, the Earl of Gloucestershire, to be settled with another wife who could care for him and be his companion in society.”
“I’m sure she would. Lady Cordella, if you would excuse us, our tea is growing cold,” he indicated towards the table. “Perhaps I can stop by one day soon and pay you and your husband a visit.”
“And Lady Elsbeth, too?” The young woman was staring at Lord Weston as if he were scrumptiously covered in the same sweet icing as the petit fours, and in fact as Kate observed closer, she thought she saw the slightest tip of the young woman’s tongue lick her lips in delight.
“Of, course, Lady Elsbeth, too. Until then?”
“Please come soon. I would love to discuss some matters with you as soon as possible.” The older woman nodded her head to Kate, barely looking her in the eyes. “Lord Weston, good day.”
Kate watched the two ladies who looked remarkably similar stroll through the tables of the tea room at The Savoy. She looked at Andrew who looked absolutely exasperated.
“What exactly was that all about?” Kate asked, trying to contain her laughter.
“I’m not exactly sure, but I do believe I just became engaged,” he joked. “I’m so sorry Kate, it appears I am astonishingly off the market and our relationship is over.”
“Oh dear, and before we even had a chance to have our first lover’s quarrel in the British Museum. I have to tell you, for a while there I felt like I was watching a flashback to the Victorian days. How old is Elsbeth?”
“I think she is a ripe old twenty-six. Cordella has been trying to marry the poor girl off since she was in her nappies.”
“Elsbeth looked as if she could lick you,” Kate teased. “I’m pretty sure she has a crush on you. She better not let Caroline find out.”
“Oh dear me, that is a vision I would rather not have in my head. I feel sorry for Elsbeth. Any man who agrees to marry that girl will have their hands full with the mother-in-law.”
“So how are you going to get out of having tea with them. You did promise.”
“Did I? Kate could you hand me a scone? The Savoy is known for their Strawberry Scones.”
Kate spent much of Saturday ensconced in her writing. After a quick breakfast together, Andrew kissed her good-bye and headed out for his business meetings. Her emails caught up, she settled in with coffee next to the table by the window. As she was typing along, it occurred to her that at the pace she was going her novel would be –
She stopped mid thought. She would complete her novel in a few weeks. Kate closed her laptop. That would mean there would be no further reason to stay in England. She would send the last chapter to Harriet, pack up her belongings and say good-bye to her sweet cottage at the water’s edge. And goodbye to Andrew.
Kate’s mind was befuddled with emotion. She didn’t want a relationship. She didn’t need a relationship. She certainly didn’t want a relationship with a man who lived in another country and who’s world was so foreign to her own. Kate stood looking out at the Thames, an ancient river whose tidal flow had changed courses hundreds of times over the centuries. Yet it still flowed, robust and vigorous and a major part of London’s landscape. Just as Andrew was quickly becoming to Kate – a major part of her life, too. In such a short period of time, she knew in her heart that she was falling for this man she had only known for a short length of time. Certainly if the Thames could survive changing courses, she could too. Couldn’t she?
“Kate, is everything okay?”
She had been so deep in thought she didn’t even hear Andrew come in and jumped at the sound of his voice. “Andrew! You scared me. Yes, yes, I’m fine. How were your meetings?”
“Boring and far too long and drudgery-filled. I would much rather have been here with you, giving you some inspiration for that romance novel you’re working on.” He gathered her into his arms and pulled her closer, rubbing her back with his hands. “What do you say we order up some champagne before we go to dinner. It looks like you could use some liquid relaxation right now.”
“Oh, that sounds wonderful.”
“What happened today? Is this anything to do with Mark?”
“Oh, goodness sakes, no. Really, I am fine.” Kate leaned her cheek against his chest, feeling secure and unassailable all at the same time. She loved the smell of him. A sensual mixture of spices and leather and oak. “Andrew, let’s promise when my book is complete, and I have to return back to the States in a few weeks, we’ll part on happy terms, okay? I don’t do well with good-byes with people I care for.”
Andrew pulled back slightly and softly cupped Kate’s face in both hands. “Is this what has gotten you so upset today? I knew there was something bothering you. Darling Katherine, let’s not talk about any of that now. We are here to enjoy this weekend and we have all of London at our beckon. Whatever your heart desires, I will do what I can to make it happen for you.”
“Dinner with the Queen?” she joked.
“I can definitely make some calls.” he replied. “How about I order that champagne, draw you a warm bath and afterwards take you out and wine and dine you?”
Kate nuzzled his cheek with her own, content for the moment of simply being held in his arms. “Who needs the Queen when I have a Prince.”